Craig Berube

Previewing the 2019-20 St. Louis Blues

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(The 2019-20 NHL season is almost here so it’s time to look at all 31 teams. We’ll be breaking down strengths and weaknesses, looking at whether teams are better or worse this season and more!)

For more 2019-20 PHT season previews, click here.

Better or worse: The Blues are bringing back mostly the same team that won the Stanley Cup just a few months ago and that is generally a pretty good sign for a team’s chances. Whether or not they are any better or worse depends on your perspective and what your expectations are. There is a very good chance they finish as a better regular season team, but end up doing worse in the playoffs for no other reason than winning the Stanley Cup two years in a row is a brutally difficult task. If they finish with, let’s say, 105 or 106 points but get eliminated in Round 2 or 3 a year after winning the Stanley Cup are Blues fans going to be disappointed with that result? Going to guess they will not be.

Strengths: Their defensive play. They are a lockdown team that is one of the best in the league at limiting shot attempts against and as long as they get competent goaltending are one of the toughest teams in the league to score against. They have two great blue liners in Alex Pietrangelo and Colton Parayko, do not really have a true weakness anywhere on their defense, and have one of the best shutdown centers in the league in Ryan O'Reilly. Their other strength: Having one of the league’s elite goal-scorers in Vladimir Tarasenko. Since the start of the 2014-15 season only Alex Ovechkin (236) and John Tavares (183) have more goals than Tarasenko’s 182. Tarasenko has also played in fewer games than both during that stretch.

Weaknesses: It is probably more of a question mark than a “weakness,” but what will Jordan Binnington be able to do over a full season? His call-up was a turning point in the season and he fixed the team’s biggest early season flaw. But can he play at that level from the start of the year and maintain through the playoffs? That is the big unanswered question for the Blues entering the season and it will go a long way toward determining what they are capable of.

[MORE: Three questions | Under Pressure | X-Factor]

Coach Hot Seat Rating (1-10, 10 being red hot): Craig Berube has been behind the team’s bench for less than a year and in that time the Blues went 38-19-6 during the regular season (that is a 106 point pace over 82 games) and then won the first Stanley Cup in franchise history. His coaching hot seat rating is a 1 out of 10. It is probably even lower than that.

Three Most Fascinating Players: Robert Thomas, Jaden Schwartz, and Robby Fabbri are three players to watch.

The final numbers for Thomas’ rookie season do not really jump off the page, but keep in mind that he was 19 years old and playing meaningful minutes for a championship team. That is impressive, and even though it did not always result in goals or points you could see the potential he has and why the Blues are so excited about what he is capable of in the NHL. Does he take a big step in year two?

Schwartz had what was probably the worst regular season of his career offensively, scoring just 11 goals in 69 games, a massive drop from what he normally produces. It was almost entirely the result of a 6 percent shooting percentage that was entirely driven by a lot of bad luck. Every other aspect of his performance was right in line with what the Blues expect and it was only a matter of time until he bounced back. He did just that in the playoffs with 12 goals in 26 games, exceeding his regular season total. There is no reason to believe he will not be a 25-30 goal scorer again this season.

Fabbri is going to be fascinating just to see if he can get his career back on track. He is talented and had such a promising start four years ago only to be robbed of three years due to injuries. Can he get some better injury luck and still become the player the Blues hoped he would be?

Playoffs or lottery: As long as Binnington does not have a massive regression there is no reason this is not a playoff team again. They were built to win a year ago and the slow start in the first half was simply the result of not having any goaltending. Once they fixed that, combined with the improvement they saw under Berube, this team was a machine. They are not going away.

More
Blues turn back the clock with alternate jersey
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

NHL Power Rankings: Top storylines entering training camp

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In this week’s NHL Power Rankings we take a look at some of the biggest storylines across the league that are worth watching throughout the 31 training camps. The top issue throughout the offseason has been the ongoing RFA standstill, but that has been discussed so much and is starting to resolve itself with signings trickling in that we are going to focus on topics outside of that.

Included among them, a major goaltending competition that could impact one team’s entire season, new coaches in new places, coaches on the hot seat, and whether or not a recent league MVP will want to re-sign with his current team.

What else are we keeping an eye on this preseason? Let’s get to the rankings to find out!

1. Columbus’ goalie competition. It might be the most interesting and important competition in any camp across the league. The Blue Jackets are getting fed up with being told how bad they will be this season, and while they still have a lot of reasons for optimism on the roster the ability of either Joonas Korpisalo or Elvis Merzlikins to adequately replace Sergei Bobrovsky will determine what the team is capable of doing.

2. Joel Quenneville’s impact in Florida. It has been a long time since Panthers fans have had a reason for optimism at the start of a season. This might even be the first time since they came off a Stanley Cup Final appearance all the way back in 1996 that they have reason to believe better days are ahead. They had a huge offseason that was kicked off with the addition of a future Hall of Fame, three-time Stanley Cup winning coach.

3. Taylor Hall‘s future in New Jersey. Ray Shero was one of the NHL’s busiest general managers this summer with the additions of P.K. Subban, Wayne Simmonds, Nikita Gusev, and the drafting of Jack Hughes with No. 1 overall pick. His biggest move, though, will be convincing his best player to stay in New Jersey and sign a long-term deal. Hall missed most of the last season due to injury and the Devils were never able to recover from that. Now that he is back the pressure is on New Jersey to get back to the playoffs. If they can’t do that after all of their summer additions, what motivation is there for Hall to want to re-sign?

4. Connor McDavid‘s health. This could probably be even higher on the list, but it seems like he is going to be ready for the start of the season. Still, he is coming back from a pretty significant injury at the end of the last season and there is reason to believe he may not quite be 100 percent at the start. He is the league’s best player and if the Oilers have any hope of competing they not only need him to be healthy, they need him to put the entire franchise on his back and carry it. Tough ask.

5. Coaches on the hot seat. Bruce Boudreau has to be pretty high on this list. He has already done the impossible for an NHL head coach and outlasted two GMs in Minnesota, but how long of a leash will he get under new GM Bill Guerin? Winnipeg’s Paul Maurice also has to be near the top of this list. The Jets badly regressed a year ago and have a ton of question marks entering the season and a slow start could lead to a change behind the bench.

6. The Colorado hype. They have what might be the best young core in the NHL, addressed their biggest depth needs at forward with the additions of Andre Burakovsky, Joonas Donskoi, and Nazem Kadri, and have a couple of young stars on defense in Cale Makar, Sam Girard, and 2019 No. 4 overall pick Bowen Byram. They already took a huge step a year ago by reaching Round 2 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and with the roster they have entering this season (as well as the salary cap space at their disposal) there is going to be plenty of pressure to take the next step.

7. First-round picks competing for roster spots. Jack Hughes (New Jersey) and Kaapo Kakko (New York Rangers), the top two picks in the 2019 NHL draft, seem to be locks to make their respective rosters, but are there any other 2019 first-round picks that can find their way onto a roster this season? Kirby Dach with the Blackhawks? Byram in Colorado? Maybe Dylan Cozens in Buffalo?

8. Craig Berube and Jordan Binnington in St. Louis. The hiring of Berube and call-up of Binnington were the two turning points for the Blues on their way to a Stanley Cup. What will the duo be capable of for an encore when expectations will undoubtedly be higher than they were when they made their Blues debuts? The biggest question probably rests with Binnington’s ability to duplicate his 2018-19 performance over a full season.

9. Ralph Krueger in Buffalo. The Sabres’ head coaching position has been a revolving door of mediocrity over the past eight years. Can Krueger be the one break the cycle that has seen them make a change every two years? Or will his tenure be more of the same for an organization that has given its loyal fans nothing but grief for nearly a decade now?

10. Will it be another lost season for the Southern California teams? The Kings were terrible from the start a year ago, while the Ducks eventually cratered in the second half after goaltending carried them as far as it could early in the year. Is there any reason to expect anything different this season? The Ducks already lost veterans Corey Perry (buyout), Ryan Kesler and Patrick Eaves (injury) and did not really add much to their roster over the summer. The Kings still seem stuck in limbo in what direction they want to take as an organization and will be relying heavily on bounce-back years from veterans. Instead of fighting for a Stanley Cup, this intense rivalry might be about draft lottery odds.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Marc Savard joins Blues as assistant coach

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Craig Berube will have a new face next to him on the St. Louis Blues’ bench this coming season. Longtime NHLer Marc Savard has been hired as an assistant coach to work mainly on the power play.

“I was fortunate to play with Marc during my career and I’m very familiar with his passion and acumen for the game,” said Berube, who played two seasons in Calgary with Savard. “He was a tremendous player and possesses an elite offensive mind. His addition to our staff will be a great benefit to our players and the organization.”

Savard, 42, last played in the NHL in 2010 as concussions ended his playing career. He officially retired in Jan. 2018 and made it known that in his post-playing days he wanted to get into the coaching world. He had been involved in coaching his sons in Triple A hockey, but landing a gig in junior or pro hockey was his goal. After spending the 2018-19 season working for Sportsnet on television and radio, he’ll be behind the bench with the defending Stanley Cup champions.

[Savard ready to take coaching experience to the next level]

Speaking to NBC Sports after his retirement announcement last year, Savard pointed to former Atlanta Thrashers head coach Bob Hartley as a big influence on his coaching spirit.

“He really gave me the opportunity to be the best I could be,” Savard said. “The first day he came in we had a meeting and he told me flat out that he was going to give me a great opportunity. Everything worked out excellent from there and I owe a lot to him.”

When he wasn’t working on TV or radio, Savard took up a side project showing fans the tape jobs of various NHL players on his YouTube channel, which has nearly 15,000 subscribers. No word yet if that will continue, but if it does he certainly won’t be short on acquiring sticks to use to show viewers.

Savard played 807 NHL games with the Flames, Thrashers, New York Rangers, and Boston Bruins. He finished with 207 goals, 706 points and one Stanley Cup ring.

MORE: Marc Savard and the art of taping your hockey stick

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

PHT Stanley Cup Tracker: Cup heads to the Canadian prairies

Associated Press

The PHT Stanley Cup tracker will keep tabs on how the St. Louis Blues spend their summer celebrating.

We’re back once again and on the trail of the Stanley Cup, which is traveling around the world this summer in the hands of the St. Louis Blues.

According to the Blues, the Cup will travel nearly 29,000 miles across three continents and five countries over the next two months.

This week, the Cup was in Western Canada, visiting head coach Craig Berube’s’ quaint hometown in Alberta and in Regina, where Brayden Schenn and Co. took the mug to Mosaic Stadium, the home of the Canadian Football League’s Saskatchewan Roughriders.

The Cup made its way to Busch Stadium two weeks ago as several of the Blues players hoisted it in front of thousands of St. Louis Cardinals fans.

And here’s Conn Smythe winner Ryan O'Reilly throwing out the game’s first pitch.

Brayden Schenn got his day with the Cup in Saskatoon on Friday and took it right to the place where his father has worked for 28 years as a firefighter.

Schenn was seen wearing a firefighter helmet during the Blues’ parade with the Cup back in June.

“You always think if I win the Cup, you put the thoughts in your head of what I would do with it,” Schenn told the team’s website. “My dad is a firefighter, so this was important to me. I’m trying to do my best sharing it with a lot of people today.”

He also took it Royal University Hospital where he met with sick children, including 16-year-old John Bossaer.

The Cup then headed a few hours south, where Tyler Bozak and Jaden Schwartz shared their day with the Cup with the city of Regina on Saturday.

The duo planted a Blues flag on the Saskatchewan Legislative Building.

They then headed to where people where melons on their heads: Mosaic Stadium.

There, they paraded the trophy in front of thousands of Saskatchewan Roughriders fans who had assembled for the Canadian Football League’s game against the Calgary Stampeders. There wasn’t much to cheer for during the football game for fans — the Roughriders lost 37-10 — but Bozak and Schwartz, along with Schenn, got the crowd into a frenzy.

Earlier in the week, the Cup was a province over in Alberta.

Craig Berube, fresh off a three-year extension as bench boss with the Blues, took the Cup back to his hometown of Calahoo, Alta.

It’s not a big place — the thriving metropolis boasts a population of just 85 — but they were all out to congratulate Berube.

“We all grew up here,” Berube told the team’s website. “My dad and brothers lived on this farm or just down the road. We were grain farmers, cattle farmers, we had it all here, that’s how we grew up. It’s changed now, but still my dad lives here with his brothers and my uncle built a 9-hole golf course on the property over there.

“Every summer I come back once or twice, and when we play Edmonton I come back and visit if I have the chance. But this is the most special trip so far for me.”

His mother, meanwhile, was just as thrilled.

“I never dreamt it. Unreal,” said Ramona Berube, Craig’s mother. “I never thought of something like this (happening). It’s just great for everybody who was down at the arena to see it. You can see how much it means to everybody.”

Colton Parayko, meanwhile, got his day with the Cup in St. Alberta, a city northwest of Edmonton.

Parayko’s day also included an emotional moment as he, along with his grandfather and family, toasted his grandma, who died last November after a battle with cancer.

According to Parayko, a deal was made between grandmother and grandson that if the latter made the NHL one day, the former would take a shot of peach schnapps at her home in St. Albert any time he scored.

With her passing, the family honored the tradition on Wednesday.

“She was a special girl and she means a lot to me and my whole family,” Parayko said. “With me not being in St. Albert here and playing in St. Louis, the shots were a way we could frequently connect (during hockey season). In the summer when I came home, she begged me to score a few extra ones for her.”

“We had such a wonderful life together. I wish she was here to see this.”

Meanwhile, the mayor of Boston, Martin Walsh, made a nice gesture to Laila Anderson this week, congratulating her and the Blues for their Stanley Cup win.

“Dear Laila – We have never met, so let me begin by introducing myself. My name is Marty and I am a passionate, lifelong Boston Bruins fan,” Walsh wrote. “I am writing to you because a couple of weeks ago, I was at home, watching pre-game coverage of game 3 of the Stanley Cup finals, when I saw a story about you, your love of the St. Louis Blues, how the Blues players’ love you in return, and how you inspried an entire city and fan base. After watching the segment, I turned to my partner, Lorrie, and said, ‘This stinks! I love the Bruins and I want them to win! … But I really want Laila to win, too!’

“I don’t know if you or your family plan to come back to Boston anytime soon, but if you should return please let me know as I would be very glad to meet you and your family and show you some more of Boston. I certainly can’t promise you a cooler experience than standing on the Garden ice kissing the Stanley Cup, but Boston’s a great city and would love to have you back.”


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

For Berube, accountability led to a Stanley Cup for Blues

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Blues general manager Doug Armstrong had his staff produce a list of coaching candidates after firing Mike Yeo in November. He hasn’t looked at it since January.

The Stanley Cup champions formally announced a three-year contract extension for coach Craig Berube on Wednesday, officially taking the interim tag off. Maybe.

”He’s going to stay as an interim for the next three years because we’ve had some success with that,” Armstrong quipped.

Berube took over for Yeo in late November and led the Blues to one of the most dramatic turnarounds in NHL history, culminating with the first NHL championship in the franchise’s 52-year history. The Blues went 38-19-6 during the regular season under Berube, climbing from dead last in the league standings in early January to third place in the Central Division. The Blues were one of only seven teams to make the postseason after being last in the league in points that late in the season – and they are the only team to win a playoff series after climbing out of that hole, let alone win it all.

The 53-year-old Berube, a former NHL enforcer from a tiny hamlet in Alberta, Canada, won over the team by holding everyone accountable, including himself.

”Whether it’s through ice time, where you fit in in the lineup on a nightly basis,” Berube said. ”It’s really conversations with the players more than anything. It’s just putting the team-first mindset and drilling it into the team. That’s really, basically it. It takes a lot of work, it’s every day, but it’s getting that team-first mindset. Once we started to get that and once I started to see guys fitting in certain areas, we were playing pretty good hockey, we just weren’t getting the wins and that started to come.”

Armstrong told Berube that he would be the head coach in the final week of the regular season, but both sides agreed to hold off on negotiations until after the final game. That turned out to be a Game 7 win in the final last week. Financial terms were not disclosed.

”In any negotiation you walk in hoping it’s going to go quickly and this one did go relatively quickly, but you can get some bumps on the road, some differing opinions and I certainly didn’t want that walking into game two, or three or four of a playoff series,” Armstrong said. ”We wanted his mind focused on the task.”

Last fall, Berube immediately took down the standings in the locker room when he took over. It was one of the many moves that convinced Armstrong to ditch that list of coaching candidates.

”I think when you come in in October and you look at the standings, you’re excited that you’re at the top and then as you’re going lower and lower and lower, it gets depressing coming in on a Tuesday morning and looking up at 28 teams ahead of you,” Armstrong said. ”I thought it was a great idea to take those down. And really what he stressed to everyone in our group is, ‘Let’s live in the moment. You’re not going to change yesterday and tomorrow is going to come soon enough, let’s work on today.”’

That mindset served the Blues well, especially in the postseason where nothing came easy.

After winning the first two games on the road in the opening round against Winnipeg, St. Louis dropped the next two at home. The Blues went just 6-7 on Enterprise Center ice in the postseason, including losing Game 6 with a chance to win the Cup against Boston.

St. Louis could have folded after Game 3 in the third round after losing to the San Jose Sharks in overtime on a goal scored directly off of an illegal hand pass that wasn’t caught by the officials. Instead, taking their cue from Berube, the Blues won the next three games to close out the series.

”I thought Craig and his staff did a fabulous job of celebrating the victories through the end of that evening and then the next day coming back to work,” Armstrong said. ”We didn’t get hung up on a bad loss or too high on a win. When you get into the playoffs, I thought that was a huge advantage for our team.”

That mentality did not happen overnight.

”You’ve got to push it and prod and do all kinds of things to get everybody on the same page and to buy in, it takes a little time,” Berube said. ”They did a great job, our players. They wanted to be a good team and that obviously happened and they became a good team.”

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